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Ultimate Guide to La Liga Weekend: Real Madrid to Try Again V New Promoted Side

Karl Matchett@@karlmatchettFeatured ColumnistAugust 28, 2015

GIJON, SPAIN - AUGUST 23:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid controls the ball during the La Liga match between Sporting Gijon and Real Madrid at Estadio El Molinon on August 23, 2015 in Gijon, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

When the fixture list emerged for La Liga and eyes were drawn to whom Rafael Benitez's Real Madrid would go up against, it looked a fairly straight forward run of games up until the end of September, when bigger games against the likes of Athletic Bilbao, Malaga and the derby against Atletico Madrid start to appear.

Heading into that group of games, though, there wasn't much reason to assume Real would drop so much as a single point as they look to end a bad run of not winning La Liga anywhere near as often as they would like. Two matches against newly promoted teams, an away fixture at a usually accommodating Espanyol side and a home game with Granada, one of the sides who scraped safety on the final day last season.

Except it already hasn't gone to plan.

Real's 0-0 draw against new boys Sporting Gijon was inexplicable and shocking, at least in the sense of the scoreline, but it wasn't an awful performance. Still, as usual, the local media made things sound plenty worse than it was. For those involved, it was rather just another step toward where they want to be, though they admitted they need to improve on taking chances.

Boss Benitez wants more control defensively and more cutting edge in attack, per BBC Sport.

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We lacked precision in the final pass and accuracy in the shots on goal. In general, we lost the ball too much in the first half and gave them a lot of opportunities to counter-attack. In the second half, we had more control, more possession, more danger—but without that final pass to leave you with a clear chance at goal. 

We will continue to tweak and improve things like the physical condition, the precision and the co-ordination between the players and in that sense I remain optimistic.

Centre-back and captain Sergio Ramos shared similar sentiments and, in something of a throwaway comment, per Marca, completely nailed one of the problems Real and Benitez face:

Anything but a win, scoring three points every time, isn't good. We shouldn't take anything away from the opposition though, they played very well in the first half. We had control of the game in the second but we were unable to take advantage of our opportunities. ... It's very difficult to win anywhere these days.

Anything but a win, every time, isn't good.

That is the kind of pressure and expectation Real play under—which is fine, as a superclub, they create those levels themselves—and accordingly, every non-victory is a crisis and an indication of staggering ineptitude at every level of the organisation.

One game in, fans already want Benitez's resignation, Gareth Bale out the team, another striker in...the list goes on and is unending. And ever-changing. When Bale nets a couple of goals in a game shortly down the line, he'll be "back" and Benitez will be praised.

In a league where challengers inevitably need to win a huge eight out of every 10 games to have a shot at the title, slip-ups are rare and unexpected whenever they occur.

GIJON, SPAIN - AUGUST 23: Gareth Bale of Real Madrid reacts during the La Liga match between Sporting Gijon and Real Madrid at Estadio El Molinon on August 23, 2015 in Gijon, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

But only a year ago, Real were still lauding their 10th European Cup/Champions League success and on the verge of embarking on what would be a 22-game winning streak. Twenty-two consecutive wins. That is astonishing consistency, rarely seen on the world stage. It still wasn't enough to push Real toward the title or keep the manager at the time, Carlo Ancelotti, in his job.

So Real are trying again. Something new. Someone new. And after one match, Benitez's plans aren't quite in place enough to get his team a fluid victory against minor opposition.

Our penultimate training session ahead of Saturday's visit of Betis has finished. 💪⚽️ #RMCity #HalaMadrid pic.twitter.com/DsHHEGlryz

— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) August 27, 2015

This time around, Real are at home. The whistles of derision will become very loud, very quickly, if the team fails to break down a second newly promoted side in the space of seven days. Real Betis were fairly impressive against Villarreal in their opening game, drawing 1-1, but they still shouldn't be able to stem the tide against Real Madrid.

.@SergioRamos , @isco_alarcon, @GarethBale11, @Benzema and @Cristiano have all scored against Betis before. #RMLiga https://t.co/mov2zJkO6G

— Real Madrid C.F. (@realmadriden) August 26, 2015

Then again, nor should Sporting have been.

Benitez will get things running much more smoothly at Real, but he needs to begin life at the Santiago Bernabeu with a resounding win to get supporters on board—and to stop the early gap to the top getting any wider.

Jornada 2 Fixtures (kick-off times on Soccerway, BST)

Friday

Villarreal vs. Espanyol

Saturday

Real Sociedad vs. Sporting Gijon

Barcelona vs. Malaga

Celta Vigo vs. Rayo Vallecano

Real Madrid vs. Real Betis

Sunday

Eibar vs. Athletic Club

Sevilla vs. Atletico Madrid

Valencia vs. Deportivo La Coruña

Las Palmas vs. Levante

Getafe vs. Granada

What to Watch out for This Week

Part 1: Which of Messi and Ronaldo Will Fire First?

The opening day of La Liga didn't exactly see the top forwards firing on all cylinders, with Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann the only such players to find the back of the net. Both Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona's Leo Messi missed a number of chances to open their own accounts for the league season. In truth, both put in below-par performances.

Keeping up their incredible levels of consistency, as they have done over the last few years, will be extremely demanding, and it's natural they should have a little downtime once in a while, but it was coincidental to see them both fail to shine at the same time at the start of the season.

BILBAO, SPAIN - AUGUST 23:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona takes a penlty kick during the La Liga match between Athletic Club and FC Barcelona at San Mames Stadium on August 23, 2015 in Bilbao, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Messi, of course, missed a penalty against Athletic Bilbao, while just four of Ronaldo's 10 shots against Sporting Gijon were on target, per WhoScored.com. It will be a case of all eyes on both to see who gets up and running in the goals stakes first this season as they look to make improved individual performances too.

Messi and Ronaldo's chances of reaching these goal milestones in La Liga this season, based on our projection model: pic.twitter.com/CTXJPpay7o

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 21, 2015

Of course, in terms of goals, after last week, it would simply be nice if anyone in La Liga started to hit the back of the net with regularity!

Part 2: Early Chance to Get Points in the Probable Relegation Fight

There's no getting away from relegation for some teams, even at this early stage of the season. After the top five in Spain, there are a group of another half-dozen or so teams who can fight for Europe, the top half and so on, but many clubs that remain below them will, at one stage or another, fear dropping into the battle for survival.

Granada are one, having only just survived on the final day last term. All the promoted sides will be involved unless they pull out a spectacular first season back in La Liga. Real Betis will be the favourites to show they can compete at that level. But Eibar (currently top after Jornada 1), Depor and even Getafe perhaps all need to show greater consistency this term if they are to enjoy, not endure, this season.

Granada were handed a nice-looking start to the season, playing Eibar and newly promoted Getafe, but a loss in Week 1 puts a little more pressure on starting to get points on the board now. Las Palmas versus Levante is similarly a game both will hope can kick-start 2015-16.

It's not the end of the world if back-to-back defeats come at the start of the season. Irreparable damage is not likely at this stage, with the transfer window open until Monday and plenty of games ahead. But a bad start can damage morale, start the doubts creeping in for fans and board members alike, and if the gap starts to widen, trigger-happy owners can look to blame the boss at an early stage.

The best remedy is to simply start winning.

Video of the Week

Player to Watch: Sergi Roberto, Barcelona

Last week saw Sergi Roberto come on early in the first half for Barca, filling in at right-back for the injured Dani Alves.

In short, Roberto was excellent. He made our Team of the Week for that position despite more regularly being seen as a central midfielder, and it looks like he'll get a run in the team now with Alves, Adriano and Douglas all unavailable.

Can he establish himself and find consistency? Can he show the drive, pace and intelligence with the final pass he did against Athletic? If so, that might be his best route into the Barcelona team on a regular basis—but one-off performances are never enough. Let's see how he fares against Malaga.

Game of the Weekend: Sevilla vs. Atletico Madrid

An early clash between top-four hopefuls, these two have probably been the most impressive in La Liga in terms of their summer transfer activity.

Atletico Madrid's forward Fernando Torres (L) vies with Sevilla's Polish midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak (R) during the Spanish league football match Sevilla FC vs Club Atletico de Madrid at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in Sevilla on March 1, 2015.
CRISTINA QUICLER/Getty Images

Sevilla are still looking short in defence at the moment and will have midfielder Steve N'Zonzi suspended, but they added to their strike force during the week by signing Juventus' Fernando Llorente. Atleti looked strong and confident in possession in their opening game, but facing Sevilla and then Barcelona next week is a big step up from Las Palmas.

This early in the season, it's not going to be a defining fixture—but watching how both sides approach the match and how they try to win it could give some serious insight into just how high they believe they can finish in La Liga this term.

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